BOYS TOWN — Some houses being torn down to make way for commercial development in eastern Nebraska once sheltered Japanese-Americans escaping forced internment on the West Coast after the United States entered World War II.
The houses and surrounding buildings amid farmland west of Boys Town are giving way to a $1.2 billion entertainment, residential and retail district being developed by Noddle Cos.
Some pieces of the structures will be reincorporated into the new development, but the homes have been reduced to piles of twisted metal, splintered wood and concrete. Some are leveled entirely, and others are smoldering ruins after the Boys Town Fire Department conducted controlled burns last week.
Boys Town orphanage founder Father Edward Flanagan urged Japanese-Americans to come live in the homes shortly after they were built in the early 1940s. Flanagan found them jobs on campus or helped them establish new lives in cities outside of Omaha.
"I see no disaster threatening us because of any particular race, creed or color," Flanagan said around this time. "But I do see danger for all in an ideology which discriminates against anyone politically or economically because he or she was born into the 'wrong' race, has skin of the 'wrong' color or worships at the 'wrong' altar."
Boys Town Director of Community Programs Tom Lynch said more than 200 relocated Japanese-Americans spent time in the town during the war, with about 30 living on campus. They worked as barbers, bus drivers, farmhands, typists and gardeners.
Roger Oshima's father, Mike Oshima, came to Boys Town during the war and worked there for more than 50 years as a carpenter, a locksmith and captain of the fire department.
"Boys Town was good to (my father) and our family, so we just stayed there," Roger Oshima said.
Mike Oshima retired in 1998, after raising his family on the Boys Town grounds. He served under three executive directors after Flanagan's death in 1948.
"My dad was very loyal to Boys Town," said Oshima's daughter, Terry Burdett. "He appreciated the opportunities Father Flanagan gave him."